2 faculty from UNL are fellows at MIT Worlding incubator

Ash Eliza Smith (left) and Kwakiutl Dreher
Ash Eliza Smith (left) and Kwakiutl Dreher

2 faculty from UNL are fellows at MIT Worlding incubator

calendar icon12 Oct 2022    

Lincoln, Neb.—University of Nebraska–Lincoln Assistant Professor of Emerging Media Arts Ash Eliza Smith and Associate Professor of English Kwakiutl Dreher were fellows at the inaugural WORLDLING, a first-of-its kind research and development initiative that explores climate futures at the intersection of documentary, land-use planning, speculative modeling and game-engine technologies.

It is a partnership between Unity Software/the Unity Charitable Fund and the Co-Creation Studio at MIT Open Documentary Lab.

“The convening was an amazing opportunity to work with and learn from mentors, scholars and industry experts and the fellow cohort about how we are all working with real-time 3D technologies, in conjunction with story, land and water use/planning, and climate futures,” Smith said. “We are using digital tools for the physical world. With real-time 3D, co-creation and story, we can determine decisions around water and land use in the physical world.”

During the intensive workshop, a cohort of five project teams with storyworld projects in development had the opportunity to develop their projects with researchers and makers from MIT, Unity team members and special guests from the field, to explore how they use or could use realtime 3D technology to imagine, plan and co-create future worlds within real-life communities. 

“The WORLDING programme is a most intense convening. I found it to be a celebration of artistic expression by creators and artists around the globe,” Dreher said.

The five teams were selected from among 45 nominations from five continents. 

Smith and Dreher, along with Chris Lasch, the president of the School of Architecture founded by Frank Lloyd Wright, are working on a project titled Seabreeze Bop City. This place-based, collaborative project addresses land use and land rights issues that stem from systemic inequalities and climate change. Seabreeze, North Carolina, is a historic Black-owned beach community with a rich, but disappearing history characterized by Black land loss, hurricane destruction and sea-level rise. 

After segregation ended, and after a sequence of human-made and natural coastal disasters, Seabreeze faded as a resort community. Today, there are few physical traces left to recall the vibrancy of its heyday. Many extended Freeman family members are still in residence, though much of the property in the neighborhood is undevelopable and under threat as heirs’ property. The project seeks to reveal the history of the place through immersive media and XR technologies and by extending these tools, create innovative community design tools.

Eight students in the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts Innovation Studio course traveled to Seabreeze, North Carolina, over spring break with Smith to learn more about the community and interview people for the immersive storytelling project.

Smith is an artist, designer and researcher who uses storytelling, worldbuilding and speculative design to shape new realities.

Dreher is a native of Columbia, South Carolina, and her family vacationed at Atlantic beach (North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina), a segregated land mass about an hour’s drive from Seabreeze, North Carolina. A filmmaker and playwright, Dreher is the director and co-writer in “Animating History, an interdisciplinary project that combines arts, creative writing, drama, music and, generally, the humanities via filmmaking. She also writes about African American literature, film, visual and popular culture.

For more information on WORLDING, visit https://cocreationstudio.mit.edu/worlding/